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Pastors sue Gov. Carney to enforce freedom to worship

Thomas Neuberger announces the lawsuit at Reverend Alan Hines' church in Townsend (Hines is pictured 2nd from the left).
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Thomas Neuberger announces the lawsuit at Reverend Alan Hines' church in Townsend (Hines is pictured 2nd from the left).

Two Delaware pastors are suing Gov. John Carney to enforce their right to worship freely.

While places of worship were considered essential under Gov. Carney’s emergency orders, religious leaders had to follow strict guidelines, which included tight capacity restrictions, mask requirements and cleaning rules.

While those restrictions have since lifted, two pastors are seeking to bar any Governor from restricting anything to do with religion in the future, claiming the state constitution has provided such rights since the very beginning.

Thomas Crumplar, who represents Reverend David Landow from Wilmington, says the state has no right to interfere in anything churches do.

“The government has absolutely no right under our system to interfere with how the church operates,” Crumplar said. “They can give guidelines — and the church, which cares about its brothers and sisters, they’re gonna wanna protect them, but that should be up to the church to decide, not the governor.”

Thomas Neuberger, who represents Reverend Alan Hines from Townsend, says Delaware’s Bill of Rights often provides more freedoms than the federal government gives.

“Our Delaware courts hopefully are not going to be bound by the federal rule,” said Neuberger. “They’ll look at it, but they’ll say our founders had something more in mind than the feds, that only had like 16 words.”

The article states the government can’t restrict the rights of people to freely exercise their religion, but doesn’t define what a free exercise of religious worship is.

Neuberger argues that churches were treated unfairly, despite being considered an essential business. He says while many large retail stores, such as supermarkets and liquor stores, could operate without restrictions, houses of worship could only accommodate 10 people at a time, which the pastors say doesn’t allow their congregations to gather for service, something they deem necessary.

Crumplar compared these cases with the 1950s civil rights decision, when Delaware’s Chancery Court found racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. That later formed the basis for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Gov. Carney’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.